SLO County’s major daily newspaper quietly laid off at least three newsroom employees on May 2 amid steadily declining revenues from its parent company.
Tribune General Manager and Vice President of Human Resources Devon Goetz confirmed that the paper eliminated a “small number of positions” from the newsroom as part of “expense reductions.” Those included two part-time positions, one of which was based out of the East Coast, and two full-time positions.
“We’ve offered one of those individuals a part-time position and hope they will stay on in that capacity,” Goetz said. “The four employees have been provided with a severance package and outplacement services.”
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- LAYOFFS: The Tribune dropped at least three newsroom employees on May 2, joining McClatchy-owned newspapers in Fresno and Tacoma, Wash., in layoffs. The company is revamping its business model toward online news.
The layoffs at The Tribune come as its parent company, McClatchy, faces declining revenues and embraces a new leader in CEO Craig Forman, appointed in January. McClatchy reported a 7.5 percent reduction in revenue in 2016 compared to 2015, according to the company’s annual report to shareholders. It also saw a 7.8 percent decline in revenue in 2015. To recover costs, The Tribune outsourced its printing to Fresno in 2015. McClatchy’s also expressed an intention to sell The Tribune building on South Higuera Street.
At least two other McClatchy-owned papers also experienced newsroom layoffs in the last month. The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington’s second largest newspaper, cut 10 positions last month. The Fresno Bee announced eight newsroom layoffs on May 2.
Despite the shake-up, McClatchy’s 2016 annual report strikes an optimistic tone about its shift toward a greater online presence.
“McClatchy begins 2017 with a sharpened focus on accelerating our digital transformation,” the report reads. “We are clear-eyed about the challenges facing the print newspaper economic model. We will remain vigilant on cost control and expense reduction.”
Last year the company reported an increase in digital readership, video views, and digital-only revenue and announced a partnership with Excelerate—a digital advertising agency.
“Those successes helped us weather industry-wide declines in print advertising, and they prepare us for the year ahead,” the report stated.
Locally, The Tribune has seen an increase in online readership by about 120,000 unique visitors from 2015 to 2016. While this emphasizes the company-wide transformation to move online, circulation has been dropping. Its daily circulation decreased by 3,000 from 2015 to 2016 and by 1,000 from 2014 to 2015.
In addition, The Tribune has upped the price of its subscription packages in recent years—now advertised at $779.48 annually for daily deliveries and online access.
The company also appears to be asking for different prices from different customers, according to two sets of customer bills shared with New Times.
Twenty-year Tribune subscriber M. Joseph Johnson, a SLO city resident, saw his 52-week annual subscription bill increase from $186 in 2012 to $395.20 in 2016. More troubling to Johnson, the Tribune’s offers appear to vary by the customer. While his renewal price was nearly $400 in 2016, a friend and neighbor’s was $249.60 for the same package. In 2015, Johnson’s price was $275.60 and his neighbor’s was $154.96—in 2014, $254.80 to $131.04.
A discussion between more of his neighbors revealed several different prices for 52-week subscriptions. In his correspondences with the company, he was told that its marketing division identifies price points for each customer.
“I’m feeling scammed after 20 years as a loyal subscriber,” Johnson said, noting that he canceled his subscription.
According to billing statements, the drastic price increase for both customers between 2015 and 2016 is likely due to The Tribune changing its policy to include “special editions” as part of the subscription package—which it didn’t do prior. As to why there’s a price difference between neighbors, The Tribune’s general manager declined to answer in detail.
“Our rates are published in the newspaper each day, and we offer a variety of special programs and products at different times over the years,” Goetz said. “We decline to comment on any specifics as this is proprietary business information.”